“THE PACIFIC” (2010) Episode Seven “Peleliu III” Commentary

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“THE PACIFIC” (2010) Episode Seven “Peleliu III” Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the seventh episode of “THE PACIFIC”.

In Episode Seven“THE PACIFIC” finally ended its three-part focus on the Battle of Peleliu. This particular one centered on Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello) and his experiences with the 5th Marines regiment in the hills of Peleliu Island in October 1944.

The episode began with a montage featuring Sledge and the 5th Marines battling it out against the Japanese Army for a period of time – a first for the miniseries – until their return to the airfield for a brief respite. There, Sledge has a conversation with his company commander, Captain Andrew “Ack Ack” Haldane (Scott Gibson). As the 5th Marines prepare to head back into the hills, Sledge spotted Colonel Chesty Puller (William Sadler) and the 1st Marines regiment heading back toward the beach. One of that regiment’s wounded turned out to be one Lou “Chuckler” Juergens (Josh Helman), barely conscious, while smoking a cigarette.

As Sledge and the 5th Marines returned to the hills, the episode gave viewers another peek into John Basilone’s (Jon Seda) continuing publicity tour as a war hero. Only this time, the novelty has finally worn off. The war bond drive and celebrity status has driven Basilone into his own personal hell. He also seemed to be haunted by memories of Guadalcanal and the death of Manny Rodriguez (Jon Bernthal). This brief glimpse of Basilone’s dissatisfaction will eventually lead to his decision to request a return to active duty.

But most of the episode featured Sledge and the 5th Marines’ continuing experiences on Peleliu. The horrors that the Mobile native had experienced during the landing and the battle across the airfield almost seemed like child’s play in comparison to his experiences in the Peleliu hills. I say . . . almost. What Sledge and the others had experienced during Episode Five and Episode Sixseemed pretty hellish to me. In this episode, Sledge, his fellow Marines and the Japanese soldiers all seemed, at times, to be experiencing the lowest forms of humanity. And Episode Seven provided it all with brutal combat scenes, gruesome deaths and worst of all, mutilation of bodies – dead or alive.

Earlier in the episode, Sledge had looked upon some of his fellow Marines’ mutilation of dead Japanese soldiers with disgust. One particular Marine even tried to remove the gold teeth from a Japanese soldier, who was badly wounded but still alive. Sledge expressed his disgust aloud, demanding that the enemy soldier be put out of his misery. Later in the episode, he sang a different tune after his company suffered major losses in the command structure. First, a wounded Lieutenant Edward “Hillbilly” Jones (Leon Ford) was killed by stray bullets, while being carried from the battlefield by stretcher bearers. Not much time had passed before Corporal R. V. Burgin (Martin McCann) announced Captain Haldane’s death from a sniper to his platoon. Following Haldane’s death, Sledge finally had an urge to engage in a little mutilation of Japanese soldiers on his own. Fortunately, “Snafu” Shelton (Rami Malek) managed to talk him out of committing an act he would have eventually regretted. The episode ended with the 5th Marines returning to Parvuvu. However, Sledge returned as someone different from the inexperienced Marine that had a reunion with his childhood friend, some four months ago. This was especially apparent in his reaction to the sight of nurses greeting returning Marines on Parvuvu. Perhaps in his mind, they seemed like an illusion amidst the realities of war.

Many fans seemed to view Episode Seven as the best in the entire miniseries, so far. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Some also believe that it is the series’ most depressing episode. At the moment, I believe that Episode Four still holds that honor. But I do believe that Episode Seven was the most brutal in the series so far – with both Episode Two and Episode Six tying for second place. Director Tim Van Patten did an exceptional job in conveying the brutality and chaos of war in the Pacific Theater. Two scenes that really drove home the fact to me were the surprising death of Hillbilly Jones, which took me completely by surprise; and the image of “Snafu” Shelton tossing pebbles into the head of a dead Japanese soldier. By the time Sledge and his fellow Marines had returned to Parvuvu, I felt as if I had experienced the combat version of hell and beyond. However, I do have two quibbles about the episode.

In real life, a Navy corpsman named Doc Caswell had been the one to convince Sledge not to mutilate a dead Japanese soldier. In the miniseries, it was “Snafu”. My problem with this particular scene stemmed from another in last week’s episode, in which “Snafu” had supported Sledge’s pragmatic reaction to Hillbilly’s order for someone to shut up a wailing Marine with a deadly whack on the head. I found it difficult to view that “Snafu” as the same man who stopped Sledge from mutilating a dead Japanese soldier. And I feel that Captain Haldane’s death lacked any real drama. Do not get me wrong. Haldane was probably an excellent leader and a good Marine. But Scott Gibson’s portrayal of the officer made him seem like a 2.0 version of the Richard Winters character in ”BAND OF BROTHER”. I also found it difficult to experience any surge of emotion over his death, considering that it had occurred off-screen. If screenwriter Bruce McKenna could change history and allow “Snafu” to convince Sledge not to commit any mutilation, then surely he could have allowed the Alabamian to witness Haldane’s death.

The episode did feature some superb performances – especially by Joseph Mazzello and Rami Melek. And while I had a slight problem with the idea of “Snafu” convincing Sledge not to mutilate that Japanese soldier, I must admit that this scene has led me to believe that the two actors had given the best performances in the entire episode. But I also feel that Martin McCann did a fine job in developing Burgin into a top-notch squad leader. When I first saw Gary Sweet’s portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Elmo Haney back in Season Five, I thought it was a bit too exaggerated and something of a joke. But I must admit that not only did he managed to grow on me, I found his portrayal of Haney’s growing sense of despair over the bloodbath on Peleliu very impressive. But I cannot forget Jon Seda’s brief, yet memorable performance as war hero John Basilone. With a minimum of words and a great deal of facial expressions and body language, he did a superb job of conveying Basilone’s despair over being trapped into some kind of celebrity hell. He has grown a great deal as an actor.

Episode Seven capped what I believe to be the best part of “THE PACIFIC” – a three-part glimpse into the brutality of the controversial battle, Peleliu. I suspect that many viewers might find this surprising. Because so many combatants had died on the beaches and in the caves of Peleliu, the island now has a war memorial honoring the dead of both the Americans and the Japanese.

Next, John Basilone is transferred to the Fifth Marine Division and experiences combat on Iwo Jima.

 

 

 

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“THE PACIFIC” (2010) Episode Three “Melbourne’ Commentary

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I wrote this commentary on the third episode of “THE PACIFIC”:

“THE PACIFIC” (2010) EPISODE THREE “Melbourne” Commentary

Following their evacuation from Guadalcanal in January 1943, members of the U.S. Marines First Division enjoyed a respite in Melbourne, Australia. There, characters like Bob Leckie and Sidney Phillips enjoyed romances with local Australian girls. John Basilone enjoyed a period of heavy drinking and dodging the MPs before receiving his Medal of Honor for his late October actions on Guadalcanal.

Unlike 2001’s ”BAND OF BROTHERS”, this third episode featured the very first one that did not include any combat. Instead, the First Division Marines enjoyed a respite filled with booze, women, a medal ceremony and more training. This episode featured two of our major characters confronting their demons. But let me focus on the minor stuff first.

Some of the funniest romantic scenes featured Sidney Phillips romancing a young Australian girl, under the watchful eye of her grandfather. Ashton Holmes was a hoot portraying Phillips’ struggles to suppress his desires and somewhat more questionable actions (like leaving the “base” without a pass) in order to impress his new girlfriend’s Draconian grandfather and behave like a Southern gentleman. His funniest moment occurred in a scene inside a pub where Phillips was trying to assure the girl’s father that he intends to be the perfect gentleman, when the MPs appear. Although he assured both his girlfriend and her grandfather that he had a pass, he subtly suggested that they leave the pub through the back door.

Other funny moments featured Leckie’s friends, Hoosier and Chuckler. From the moment when the Marines are bivouacked at a cricket stadium, Hoosier and his government issued blanket are never apart. Never. He quickly fell asleep, while Leckie, Runner, Chuckler and other Marines left the stadium without permission – clinging to his blanket. And for several days, it never left his side. Another moment featured the Marines back in formation at the stadium, the day following their first night of liberty. Most of them looked as if they had spent a week of debauchery with no sleep . . . including Lieutenant Corrigan. One Marine could not even remain standing and in a moment of pure slapstick, fell flat on his face. Corrigan did not say a word. But the funniest moment – at least for me – featured a drunken Leckie coming upon poor Chuckler on guard duty at the stadium. Why did I call Chuckler “poor”? In a scene that brought back memories of my mad dashes to the bathroom, poor Chuckler was dancing his ass off, while trying to convince Leckie to stand guard in his place so he could relieve himself. I have to pause for a moment to keep my laughter in check. Excuse me.

This episode did not feature any scenes of Eugene Sledge. However, I suspect that viewers will be seeing him in the next episode. It did feature Basilone receiving his Medal of Honor. Like the other Guadalcanal veterans, Basilone and his friend, J.P., hit the streets of Melbourne for a night of heavy drinking and debauchery. The pair found a convenient bar where they indulged in a great deal of booze and a brief, yet violent encounter with Australian servicemen. Fortunately, their hostile encounter with the Australians became friendly. But when Basilone reported to Chesty Puller’s office the following day, Basilone was not so fortunate. One, he learned that he was to receive the Medal of Honor, which produced a delicious “WTF” expression in Jon Seda’s eyes. Then his expression became even stranger, as Puller chewed out Basilone for failing to set a good example in Melbourne . . . before eventually throwing up. Next to Chuckler’s “dancing” moment, I thought this was the funniest scene in the episode.

However, matters did not seem that funny when Basilone finally received his Medal of Honor in a formal ceremony at the cricket stadium. Poor bastard looked as if he wanted to flee for his life, instead of receiving that medal. I do wonder if something within him suspected that medal would separate him from J.P. and the rest of his men, as surely as death had separated Manny from him. The expression in his eyes seemed to hint it not only during the medal ceremony, but also when he bid good-bye to J.P. and on that flight to San Francisco near the end of the episode. And I have to give kudos to Seda for expressing this emotion without saying a word. In fact, he did a damn good job all around.

Finally, we come to Leckie. Man, I do not know what to say about him. Actually, I do. But I suspect that describing James Badge Dale’s interpretation of Leckie’s character would take a multi-page essay. It is that complicated. In fact, Robert Leckie seemed to be one of the most complicated characters I have come across in any biopic either in a movie or on television. I cannot recall any character in ”BAND OF BROTHERS” as complicated as him. Judging from his conversations with his Australian girlfriend Stella and her Greek-born mother, his demons had already been established before he saw combat or had joined the Marines. As much as he loved his family, Leckie apparently did not like being part of a big family – especially as the youngest member. He seemed to have felt crowded, yet at the same time, ignored. His description of his father made me revised the father-son good-bye scene in “Episode One. At first, I thought Leckie Sr. was simply reluctant to bid his son good-bye. I had no idea that the older man was also suffering from slight mental problems.

The episode started well for Leckie. He met Stella on a trolley car and managed to garner her interest, despite being drunk. The two seemed to take to one another like duck to water. And watching Badge Dale and Australian actress Claire van der Boom act together made me realize that they have a strong screen chemistry together. Although their loves scenes were slightly explicit, they were still very tasteful. Frankly, I saw nothing that anyone could complain about. Thanks to van der Boom’s excellent performance, Stella proved to be just as complicated as Leckie. Upon his return following a three-day hike for the Marines, she eventually dumped him. She claimed that her mother, who had taken a shine to him, would have great difficulty in dealing with his death. But Leckie had witnessed her reaction to the news of a friend’s death and immediately surmised that she was simply guarding herself from possible future heartache.

Needless to say, Leckie did not take the end of his romance very well. Not only did he get drunk, lost his temper with Lieutenant Corrigan after the latter confronted him for taking Chuckler’s place during guard duty, while the latter was taking a piss. Not only did Leckie ended up in the brig for a period of time with Chuckler, he was booted from the company and his friends, and assigned to become an intelligence scout. Poor Leckie. But I must say that the more I watch Badge Dale’s skillful portrayal of the complicated Leckie, the more I have become impressed by his talents as an actor.

Episode Three proved to be an entertaining episode. Viewers got a chance to see how some of the characters behaved away from the threat of combat. However, I rather doubt that it will ever become a favorite of mine. Aside from the personal conflicts of Leckie and Basilone, it lacked the edge that Episode One and Episode Two possessed. I suppose that is due to the lack of combat shown.

 

 

“THE PACIFIC” (2010) Episode Two “Guadalcanal II’ Commentary

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“THE PACIFIC” (2010) EPISODE TWO “Guadalcanal II” Commentary

Episode Two of HBO’s ”THE PACIFIC” continued the saga of the U.S. Marines during the Guadalcanal campaign. Episode One focused mainly on Robert Leckie’s combat experiences during the campaign. This latest episode centered on the combat experiences of Sergeant John Basilone and his fellow comrades from the 7th Marines regiment.

By the time I had finished watching Episode Two, I found myself battling a tension headache. And it was all due to action sequences featured in this episode. Granted, I also found the battle scenes in Episode One rather tense, but the action in this second episode knocked it out of the ballpark for me. Around late October 1942, John Basilone and a handful of his fellow Marines were forced to fight off a frontal assault by the Japanese Army. Between the assault and Basilone’s encounters with Japanese troops, while fetching more ammunition literally had me squirming on my living room sofa. And I must say that Jon Seda did a great job of portraying Basilone’s heroics and making it look natural in the process. I also have to give kudos to actor Joshua Biton for his emotional portrayal of one of Basilone’s close friends, J.P. Morgan.

With the exception of an aerial bombing sequence, this particular episode did not feature Leckie and his friends in actual combat. Instead, the episode focused upon them dealing with various other problems during their stay on Guadalcanal – lack of supplies, inadequate arms and . . . um, health issues. Poor Runner dealt with an attack of the runs and Leckie found himself throwing up after consuming stolen canned peaches on a half-empty stomach. Leckie and a good number of other Marines stole supplies left on the beach for the arriving U.S. Army. In a hilarious scene, Leckie managed to pinch the peaches, along with cans of other food; and a pair of moccasins and a box of cigars that belonged to an Army officer. I never knew that actor James Badge Dale had a talent for comic timing . . . until now.

Episode Two also revealed a glimpse of Eugene Sledge back in Mobile. He and his father, Dr. Sledge, have discovered that Sledge’s heart murmur no longer exists. Upon this discovery, Sledge wasted no time in announcing his intention to join the Marines. And viewers will eventually see the results of that decision by Episode Five.

By the end of the episode, the Marines were ordered to leave the island, much to the relief of many. Both Basilone and Morgan found themselves trying to rationalize the death of their friend, Manny Rodriguez, while other Marines loaded up in boats taking them off the island. A scene that featured good, solid acting by both Seda and Biton. The episode’s last scene featured Leckie and his friends learning from a Navy cook aboard ship that their actions on Guadalcanal had been reported in American newspapers and that they were now all regarded as heroes. Judging from the expressions on the Marines’ faces, they seemed conflicted on how to accept the news. This wonderfully performed scene by Badge Dale and the actors portraying Leckie’s friends – Josh Helman (Chuckler), Keith Nobbs (Runner) and Jacob Pitts (Hoosier)- was mentioned in Leckie’s memoirs.

Like Episode One, this was a well done that left me feeling tense and an array of other emotions. I only hope that the miniseries’ remaining episodes will match the quality of the first two.

“THE PACIFIC” (2010) Episode One “Guadalcanal I” Commentary

 

“THE PACIFIC” (2010) EPISODE ONE “Guadalcanal I” Commentary

Six years ago saw the premiere of the ten-part miniseries, “THE PACIFIC”; which was produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman.

The miniseries focuses upon the lives and experiences of three U.S. Marines who had fought in the Pacific Theater – writer Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), war hero John Basilone (Jon Seda) and professor/writer Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello).

This first episode featured the three men’s reaction to the attack upon Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Basilone is already a one-year veteran of the Marines around this time, as he says good-bye to his family. Leckie joins the Marines about a month after the Hawaii attack and forms a friendship with a local girl named Vera before saying good-bye to his father. And Sledge is forced to realize that his heart murmur will prevent him from joining the Marines with his friend and neighbor, Sid Phillips (Ashton Holmes). Not long after this opening, both Leckie and Basilone find themselves being shipped out to deal with the Japanese threat on Guadalcanal. Most of the episode focuses upon Leckie and Phillips’ early experiences on Guadalcanal. By the end of the episode, Basilone and the 7th Marines Regiment have arrived.

If there is one thing I can say, “THE PACIFIC” is definitely different from 2001’s “BAND OF BROTHERS”. But I guess I expected it to be. One thing, this episode made it clear that there will be scenes featuring the three characters’ experiences on the home front and among other civilians. That scene between Leckie saying good-bye to his father at the bus depot was very interesting – especially with the writer dealing with his father’s reluctance to say good-bye. And it was interesting to watch Sledge deal with his frustration at being unable to join up, due to his heart murmur. I found myself wondering if he had any idea what he would experience during the war’s later years, would he be so frustrated.

The main difference between “THE PACIFIC” and “BAND OF BROTHERS” is that the latter was mainly a retelling of the experience of an Army company, with an officer as the series’ main character. I think that “THE PACIFIC” is being presented in a way that is similar to the 2000 movie, “TRAFFIC” or the 2005 movie, “CRASH” . . . in which the same topic is presented from different perspectives. In this case, the miniseries is from the viewpoints of three men who DID NOT serve in combat together. And yet, there are connections between them. Leckie served in the same Marine company as Sledge’s best friend, Phillips. Both Leckie and Basilone fought on Guadalcanal and have a brief encounter with one another at the end of Episode One. And later, we will see both Leckie and Sledge fight in another campaign together – Peleliu. I only hope that many people will understand and learn to accept the fact that “THE PACIFIC” had a different style of storytelling than “BAND OF BROTHERS”.

By the way, I want to say a few last things. I must say that the action in this episode was amazing, along with the jungle setting. And the birthday tune that Leckie and the other Marines sang to Phillips was not only funny, but had an ominous aura as well. Well done. Well done.